KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Viewpoints: GOP’s Shutdown Vow; Peter Orszag Defends Rationale Behind Medicare Payment Board

Los Angeles Times: Sabotaging The Health Law
A dozen Republicans in the Senate have said they'd rather shut down the government than provide funding for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the 2010 healthcare reform law better known as Obamacare. Meanwhile, more than 60 Republicans in the House have called on their leadership to cut off all federal support for the law in the coming fiscal year. And they complain when President Obama doesn't hold up his end of the bargain? (7/30). 

The Washington Post: The GOP's Shutdown Showdown
The budget and appropriations processes have been a mess in recent years under both parties' control, and there was no expectation this year would be different. But this time the slow walk serves conservatives' singular purpose of undermining Obamacare. Because the appropriations won't be completed by Oct. 1, Congress will have to pass a temporary extension, or "continuing resolution." This kitchen-sink measure gives House Republicans the power to shut down the federal government if President Obama doesn't agree to their demands — particularly the repeal of health-care reform (Dana Milbank, 7/30).

The Wall Street Journal: How ObamaCare Hurts Patients
President Obama promised to mend the failings in the American health-care system, and yet for cancer treatment, ObamaCare is taking a rotten feature of the old system and making it worse. The Affordable Care Act expands a program called 340B, which siphons money from drug makers and insurers to subsidize certain hospitals. The program has been expanded as a way to offset some of the cuts that the law imposes on hospitals. One significant side effect: 340B is increasing the cost of cancer care—and harming its quality (Scott Gottlieb, 7/30). 

The Baltimore Sun: Maryland Shows Obamacare Can Be Affordable
Maryland regulators have released the details of the rates they have approved for the nine companies that want to sell policies on the state's new health insurance exchange as part of the Affordable Care Act, and the average rates for individuals buying coverage are expected to jump by as much as 25 percent. Another horror story about the train wreck of Obamacare? Hardly. That figure represents an apples-to-oranges comparison that says little about what health care will cost for any particular individual or family once the exchange starts selling policies this fall. The truth is that Maryland appears to have some of the lowest projected rates in the nation — a tribute to a well-regulated state health care system and officials who are determined to see the Affordable Care Act succeed, not fail (7/29).

The Washington Post's The Plum Line: The Conservative (Led) Boycott Of (Some) Health Insurance
You know, it's one thing to oppose a policy; that, of course, is perfectly legitimate. It's another to undermine its implementation by using whatever legislative or legal maneuvers are available to keep it from working, even if it imposes widespread costs in the meantime. Oh, and it's even worse to do that when you have no alternative policy. But now, the latest. As discussed last week, conservatives are now trying to talk people out of signing up for insurance through the exchanges (Jonathan Bernstein, 7/30). 

Bloomberg: Critics Are Wrong About the Medicare Payment Board
For Medicare, this has been a summer of good and bad news. On one hand, the program's costs continue to rise remarkably slowly. So far this fiscal year, they have gone up by only 2.7 percent in nominal terms, the Congressional Budget Office reports. On the other hand, opposition to the Independent Payment Advisory Board -- created as part of the Affordable Care Act -- continues to mount. And opponents continue to mischaracterize the whole point of the board (Peter Orszag, 7/30).

The Washington Post: Bringing Compounding Pharmacies Under Federal Regulation
A fungal meningitis infection last year that spread in contaminated vials of medicine distributed by the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass., led to 749 people becoming ill and 61 deaths in 20 states. Without doubt, this outbreak could and should have been prevented. Now, Congress is making headway toward writing laws that would prevent similar occurrences. This is not the first time Congress has attempted to tackle the problems of so-called compounding pharmacies, lightly regulated firms that mix and ship medicines to hospitals and clinics, but previous efforts were frustrated by lawsuits and ultimately were ineffective. A legacy of the 2012 outbreak must be hard and fast rules that would prevent another disaster (7/30). 

The Wall Street Journal: The Other White Medicine
The friendly acquisition of U.S. pork producer Smithfield Foods by the Chinese conglomerate Shuanghui is producing some odd economic arguments against foreign investment. But you've got to hand it in particular to House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton for trying to make the other white meat into a medical emergency. In a letter to Smithfield CEO Larry Pope, Mr. Upton and five of his GOP colleagues claim that the sale "raises questions related to the safety and adequacy of the U.S. heparin supply." Heparin is an anticoagulant used to prevent blood clots during heart surgeries and in kidney patients prior to dialysis. About 12 million people annually are treated with the drug, whose active ingredients are derived from the membranes in pig intestines (7/30). 

Health Policy Solutions (a Colo. news service): The Perils Of Privatizing Health Care, American-Style
As health systems around the world grapple with the increasing costs of providing health care for their citizens, far too many are considering more extensive privatization of their systems to emulate the U.S. health care model.  This is a mistake not only from an economic perspective but also from a human rights and public health position (Donna Smith, 7/31).

San Francisco Chronicle: Pensions At Heart Of UC Hospitals Labor Dispute
At the University of California, our hospitals treat patients facing complex medical conditions that require specialty care of the highest standard. And Californians count on UC medical centers not only to meet, but to exceed, that standard (John Stobo, 7/31).

Fiscal Times: Will Killing The 'Doc Fix' Push More MDs From Medicare?
Beyond the headlines of the rocky roll-out of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is a much more dramatic story. Many in Congress want to axe the Sustainable Growth Rate that pays physicians for Medicare patients. If Congress succeeds in scrapping legislation that caps doctor payments for Medicare, it may replace it with a game-changing formula that represents a new paradigm for healthcare compensation. The SGR, hated by doctors and sidestepped by lawmakers on an annual basis, will automatically force a 24-percent cut in physician payments next year, unless Congress votes to abandon it. That seems likely. To date, though, Congress has voted 15 times since 2002 to override the SGR with temporary "doc fixes" (Wasik, 7/31).

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